Line by line, I’m advancing through the Aeneid. I’m still not even halfway done, but I’m in no hurry. Just trying to deepen my cultural knowledge, refine my capacity for concentration and remember what is essentially human. So, no deadline (you know, like I’d have if I were trying to do something really important like pass an exam or obtain a degree. Ha!).
Anyway, Hera has just whipped Allecto into a frenzy and she, in turn, has provoked war between the Latins and Rutulians on the one side and the Trojans on the other. The Latins and Rutulians promptly lined up additional allies, leaving Aeneas overwhelmed and sick at heart, but old River Tiber in a dream sped him to seek alliance with Evander’s Acadians and he’s subsequently done so.
Prior to the outbreak of war, though, the witness of King Latinus (as his name suggests, the king of the Latins) particularly moved me. He knows — through a prophecy from his father, Faunus — that his daughter, Lavinia, is destined to marry a stranger. He perceives quickly that Aeneas is the answer to that prophecy, so he welcomes Aeneas and the Trojans to his realm, with these words:
“Don’t resist our welcome. Never forget the Latins/ are Saturn’s people, fair and just, and not because/ we are bound by curbs or laws, but kept in check/ of our own accord: the way of our ancient god.”
The ideal of self-government, so simply stated! Something deeper, even, than the rule of law undergirds free peoples. Conscience refines license into liberty. The proper formation of the conscience — the sort of education that leads a person to voluntarily eschew evil and, furthermore, to sacrifice lesser goods for greater — is not merely a religious duty; it’s a civic one, as well.
Of course, the very phrase “proper formation of the conscience” implies beliefs in discernible truth and falsehood, good and evil — beliefs too many of us have stupidly and illogically ceded as somehow archaic and outmoded when, in fact, they’re necessary for progress in knowledge. (I.e. Far from retrograde, “conservatives” who openly and proudly believe in truth and falsehood are actually more progressive than their so-called “progressive” counterparts!)
Every claim is a claim to the truth, even the claim, “There is no truth.” As a friend of mine recently put it, “Truth is a thing, and we have to deal with it.” We don’t get to decide what’s true, just how we’ll respond to it. How wise, then, to strive to act in accord with the truth, to uphold it and to allow it to shape our choices for the good!
Incidentally, this is why I’m never troubled by accusations of “judgmentalism.” To uphold “nonjudgmentalism” itself implies a judgment of judgmentalism. To uphold “tolerance” implies an intolerance of intolerance. Of course I’m judgmental; we all are. My concern is with whether my judgments are correct. And I’m actually trying to be intolerant of the false, the evil and the ugly; aren’t you?
Two additional, memorable passages about King Latinus:
Ilioneus, on behalf of Aeneas, offers Latinus several gifts as gestures of the Trojans’ good will. Virgil writes:
“The brocaded purple stirs him, king that he is,/ and Priam’s scepter too, but he is stirred far more,/ dwelling long on his daughter’s marriage, her wedding bed,/ and mulling deeply over the vision of old Faunus.”
Don’t you just love that, all of it — Latinus’ ambition and appetite for beauty, his fatherly concern for his daughter, his pious reverence for his father’s prophecy? His ambition is the best hermeneutic, of course, for Faunus’ prophecy says nothing about whether Latinus’ future strange son-in-law will make his daughter happy and says a great deal about how that son-in-law will seal the Latins’ renown — but still! It’s all there. What an admixture is the human heart!
Then, this, when war breaks out between the Latins and the Trojans despite Latinus’ plea for peace:
” … They rush to ring/ the palace of King Latinus round, but he stands fast/ like a rock at sea, a seabound rock that won’t give way:/ when a big surge hits and the howling breakers pound it hard, its bulk stands fast though its foaming reefs and spurs roar on,/ all for nothing, as seaweed dashing against its flanks/ swirls away in the backlash.”
If it’s in reference to my pursuit and love of truth, I’d like to be described thus.